Valerie Macon is the best poet from North Carolina.
Let us look at the poems, shall we? (Valerie Macon’s poems are below.)
The haughty indignation of the Credentialing Complex speaks well for itself, we suppose, and why shouldn’t those obsessed with credentials be haughty? It’s the wine that grape makes. And the naturally intoxicated poets should pity them, if nothing else, and wish them well. After all, the Credentialing Complex does so much work which has nothing to do with poetry, slaving in the world of academic adornments, perfecting the art of pleasing in a personal manner under the guidance of nuanced rules of conduct, stapling, taking out staples, tapping out, early and late, their e-calendars! All so the solid infrastructure of poetry might live! And not “melt, thaw and resolve itself into a dew.” Shouldn’t Credentialing holler if the ripe, hidden fruit is too easily plucked? Why of course. Credentialing, weary and wise from its labor, is subtle enough to know that the poetry of poetry is not the real point. Subtle masters of haughtiness! In the North Carolina case, Credentialing only had to speak: action was swiftly taken.
Oh but let us look at the poems, shall we?
It will do us good for once.
We shall not hound the good people of North Carolina with tales of poetic martyrdom, or rebuke North Carolinians for allowing one of their own, a poet—a poet of the people, no less—to be hounded from office by what must have been good intentions.
Just for curiosity’s sake, let us look at the poems.
It shouldn’t hurt a bit.
We hope all will forgive, as well, the intrusion of the Critical Faculty into the affair, as much as we revere and respect the good work done by the Credentialing Complex. The Critical Faculty will be excused, we hope, even by the haughty of North Carolina, for making the poems of Valerie Macon its business. We hope the Credentialing Complex will not be offended.
Valerie Macon—pardon us as we speak of her poems—trusts the image to tell the story; the significant detail is at the heart of what is significantly said, and this practice is a significant part of poetry; and Macon, casting her “cold eye” on objects and events, succeeds on this level to such an extent, that we would go so far as to say that it places Valerie Macon in a position of not insignificant excellence on this point, enabling us to assert, with confidence, our very favorable opinion of her.
Her poem, “That’s Good Eatin,” is visceral, literally, and we, as readers, become the squeamish audience—thanks to Macon’s sure description—to an earthy, 12 year old character, drawn as well as anything in Wordsworth; for this portrait alone Macon has made herself immortal. Anyone who reads poetry, or struggles to write it, will appreciate Macon’s command of lucid, economical description. The final image in this poem—“neat stack of pink filets”—is a little too pat—she trusts the image (and the statement it makes) a little too much, and yet, given the image, perhaps this is her point; yet the “point” fails for us precisely because it is too boldly made; but this is really a minor fault, given the overall skill of Macon’s cold eye.
That’s Good Eatin’
He seizes the gasping catfish,
stabs a screwdriver between its glazed eyes,
impales it to a tree stump.
He’s twelve, dusted with dirt,
baked bronze, cutoffs crusted
with stink bait and worm blood.
I’ve already skinned five foxes,
two deer, and a field of rabbits!
A circle of wide-eyed disciples
squat around him.
He starts to strip off the skin—
but the silver jacket hangs tough,
and the fish thrashes under his blade.
The cohorts cower.
It’s dead, that’s just its nerves,
he lectures; wipes his brow
with a gut-slicked hand.
Shimmering entrails gush out.
But for the sake of the squeamish
he crams them back in;
then the lungs blow a big milky bubble.
Boy and catfish struggle fist and knife
until at last the fish surrenders its flesh
into a neat stack of pink filets.
We see, in her other poems below, her reliance on the cold fact paying even greater and more subtle dividends.
Take “Morning News” and the effectiveness of “But flames…” with the list of personal items, and then “No immediate word on what caused the blaze the reporter tags.”
Or “Taking Up Serpents” and its powerful ending: “relieving him of his earthly ministry.”
Or “Soup Kitchen,” with its drama sympathetically rendered, finishing with the understated “I try to concentrate on my beef stew.”
Or “Blank Canvas Arts 210 8 AM” and the marvelously spondaic last line, “coats fat over lean with a bright brush.”
We challenge anyone to find better poetry, that which succeeds as well at the type of poetry it is attempting to perfect, as that which we see here from Valerie Macon, who was briefly, too briefly, the legitimate Poet Laureate of North Carolina—the best, we believe, it has ever had.
A family displaced after fire broke out
in their Horsetooth Holler home overnight
a reporter chants.
In video clip, neighbors plucked
from dreams stand in bunches, mumble
into microphones how they’ll pull together
for this decent family, see them through.
But flames already licked up
the mouse-and-cheese platter
fresh from yesterday’s flea market;
bread and butter pickles,
tomatoes and jams put up,
labeled and lined in the pantry;
the finished cross quilt, colors
like the fall garden out back;
photos of Zack his first day of school,
Ben in his lucky fishing hat
stuck on the refrigerator;
the Lego tower waiting its next story;
the miniature rose in the yard
that struggled to continue
after the first hard frost.
No immediate word on what caused the blaze
the reporter tags.
Just the smell of hot food begins to thaw
the cold that’s creeped into my bones.
The dinin’ room only holds twenty; the rest
of us stand in the waitin’ area where
some Sundays there’s church donuts.
Bein’ a small woman, I keep to myself ‘cause
a lot of the regulars are kind’a rough.
One day this big guy they call Leroy was walkin’
‘round tellin’ everyone how hungry he was,
complainin’ the line wasn’t movin’ fast enough.
He made the mistake of rummagin’ through
the bags of this bent old lady with a blank stare.
Stole her candy bar. She caught ‘im, flipped out.
Bit ‘im hard on the hand, drew blood.
In the dinin’ room, manners ‘r in short supply.
Me, I never rest my elbows on the table, always
put my napkin on my lap, chew with my mouth shut,
and mind my own business. But this skinny guy
with a comb-over called Gus uses an ungodly
amount of dressin’, makes his salad look like soup;
puts hot sauce on his oatmeal cookie.
I try to concentrate on my beef stew.
You’ll spot them in a supermarket,
the homeless, bowed over
a scummy sink, wiping down
with hand wash and paper
towel course as cow’s tongue;
or stealing a hose shower
behind a moonlit garden shed.
Tonight, under a kinship of stars,
a fallen fellow squats
in the fountain at Lemon Park,
face in a lather. Humming,
he tugs his razor over bristled
cheeks, bends his chin to the blade,
splashes his face with the plumes
of water that dance around him.
Nearby, his clothes wait
stretched across a park bench,
washed up and wrung out.
Taking up Serpents
His dad and his grandpa before him
handled snakes—timber rattlers,
copperheads, cottonmouths, adders—
survived vicious bites, no doctor.
Preacher, himself, had nine previous
bites, then, the tenth, his finger fell off.
Suffered through it with not so much as
an aspirin, instead let it rot hard and black
as a piece of coal, expose bone before it broke off.
Wife still keeps the stub in a glass jar.
She says handling a serpent is the best
feeling she’s ever had, higher than any high,
unexplainable happiness, joy in your soul.
This night in a remote church building,
Preacher stomps and bellows a fiery rant,
band pumps up the fever, congregation shouts,
dances, spins with collective adrenaline.
He reaches into a box takes up a rattler
drapes it around his neck, swings it tenderly
back and forth above his head, his face ecstasy.
Hallelujahs rise, cymbals rattle.
Viper bobs and weaves, coils in the reverend’s
grip then strikes like the snap of a whip,
bleeds death into the meat of his hand,
this time, relieving him of his earthly ministry.
There’s something spiritual
Row after row
of verdant sprouts
grow in one accord,
pulsing with new life
like saints planted
on Sunday morning pews,
crops in ruler-straight lines
stitched on chiseled ridges
of fragrant brown earth,
like the handiwork
of a Baptist quilting circle.
Soon, poking and pushing
up with the rhythm
of a needle through
the underside of a frame,
the beggar weed
and the bittercress;
as prolific as the
small uniform stitches
in a finished work,
the stink bug
and the armyworm.
At the edge of the field
the farmer swings his plow
in an arc, precise
as a slice of harvest moon
worked into a new quilt.
Arts 210, 8 AM
tumbled-out-of-bed hair gray
nappy paint-flecked sweater
he calls his old friend, whiffs
of liniment and turpentine.
You are the boss of your canvas,
he counsels, sketches the basics
of human anatomy—egg head,
two-cone torso, legs half the figure.
Love the white expanse before you,
strokes the linen with burnt sienna
thinned to melted butter.
Oil is a forgiving medium.
It allows time and layers
to figure it out,
defines the hard edges, darkens
the shadows, lightens the lights.
So paint boldly my friends!
coats fat over lean with a bright brush.
After Valentines Day
On a polished walnut vanity a dozen
roses stand on firm long stems,
bunched in pear-shaped crystal
adorned in glossy foliage,
cheeks flushed fresh pink,
perfume sweeter than
dark chocolate truffles.
it seems like only days pass—
huddled in Waterford Irish lace
they slump over canes,
bow their wizened heads
form dowager’s humps.
Additives depleted, their water
turns foam and sour milk.